“Wide awake” David Levithan

Rated 5 stars ***** 2006. Knopf Books. 221 p.

WideAwakeDuncan and his boyfriend Jimmy, along with their friends, have been working hard on the campaign of Abraham Stein hoping he will become the first gay, Jewish President of the United States. Stein wins by 1000 votes, and everyone is ecstatic – except for the governor of Kansas who insists there was election tampering and hopes to have him defeated. With his opponent refusing to concede the election, hoping to have Stein lose votes in the recount, Stein invites Americans to join him in Kansas to protest the behind-the-scenes politics working to take away the people’s vote.

Jimmy fiercely believes in action when he spots wrongdoing, while Duncan hopes silence will make bad things disappear. Their differences of opinion begin to rise to the surface with Stein’s election issues, and the trip to Kansas seems to be the match that could set them off in different directions. With a strong belief in America’s founding principles of “liberty and justice for all,” the two embark on a trip that will forever change the views they hold of their country, its citizens and themselves.

Levithan mixes politics, romance, relationships and history to give readers a dystopian story that, though written in 2006, is eerily prescient of the 2016 elections. His descriptions of the Kansas rally reminded me of the Atlanta Women’s March, where I joined millions of other women across the nation to march in solidarity for civil rights and liberties. It’s impossible to not compare the hateful vitriol spewed forth from the opposition party in “Wide awake” to that emitted by supporters of our current administration.

Eleven years have passed since Levithan took pen to paper, and many things have happened politically – including the election of our nation’s first Black president. One can only hope America will have its own Abraham Stein to elect in the years to come. Thank you David for opening our eyes to its possibility.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

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“You and me and him” Kris Dinnison

Rated 3 stars *** 2015. Houghton Mifflin. 275 p.

YouAndMeAndHimSeventeen year old Maggie and Nash have been friends for almost all their lives. Nash can’t wait to graduate and leave their little town behind, always hoping to meet the boy of his dreams while he waits. Maggie loves the quaintness of their town, and hopes the future love of her life won’t care she’s overweight.

Over the years the two of them have held each other’s secrets, and were always there for each other. Then they met Tom, a new student. Nash was instantly infatuated and called dibs, leaving Maggie to take on the role of matchmaker even though she thought Tom was cute.

When Maggie finds herself developing feelings for him, she buries herself in baking cookies and her job at the record store so as to leave the road clear for Nash. Meanwhile Maggie’s frenemy Kayla also has her eyes set on Tom, setting the stage for a love triangle with a twist.

I liked Maggie’s character, which was not the stereotypical “overweight teen girl is bullied at school so binge eats for happiness and spends her life alone, wishing she was skinny” storyline. Though sometimes she seemed too good to be true, she gave me hope that overweight teens reading the book would gain strength from her maturity and way of thinking. Nash, Tom, and Kayla, on the other hand, have lots of growing up to do and their behavior should never be emulated.

Recommended for ages 14 and older.

“Girls like me” Lola StVil

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published October 4, 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 310 p.

girlslikemeUsing a poetic style of writing, along with text messages, St. Vil tells the story of Shay, a lonely, overweight 15-year-old girl. Shay has learned to constantly eat to cope with the pain of bullying and missing her dead father, as it helps her forget she’s fat and alone with her evil stepmother. Her gay best friend Dash, and her dying-of-cancer friend Boots assure her she is beautiful and funny, but even they can’t give her the help and support she finds from eating.

A chance encounter with a boy in a chat room leads to days spent laughing and chatting online. Soon her humor and his wit combine to form love, but is it possible to fall for someone you’ve never met? Shay believes staying online is enough, and resists all attempts for them to meet in person. She is certain that once he meets her he will run away, so is willing to settle for second best. Can she learn to overcome her fear and stand up for herself?

“Girls like me” tells Shay’s, Dash’s and Boot’s stories of loneliness, friendship and heartache, along with the ups and downs that come with being seen as “different” by their peers. It is a story every teen should, hopefully, learn from as they read.

Highly recommended for ages 13 and older.

“Girl mans up” M-E Girard

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 6, 2016. Harper Collins. 373 p.

girl-mans-up“Girl mans up” is a coming of age story with a twist. Pen, a young teen, has always identified as a boy. Ever since she was a little girl, she dressed as a boy, played with boys, and really thought she was a boy. Her old-fashioned immigrant Portuguese parents assumed she’d outgrow her tomboyish ways, but their disappointment and anger grew as they demanded she show them proper “respeito” (respect.)

Unable to accept the girly mold they want her to fill, and lacking courage to completely forge a manly mold of her own, Pen takes readers on a journey of self-discovery to find a girlfriend and finally “man up” to become the person she was meant to be. Her story helps readers understand the struggles felt by young trans teens beginning to truly self identify. It also shows the importance of having friends and family with whom these teens can feel safe as they navigate through uncharted territory in their quest to have “respeito” for themselves.

Recommended for ages 16 and older.

“The other boy” M.G. Hennessey

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. Published September 20, 2016. Harper. 234 p.

theotherboyShane and his best friend Josh are in sixth grade. Video games and baseball consume their every waking moment, and girls are making an appearance. Even though his dad hasn’t made too many attempts to be part of his life or to come for visits after his parents divorce, Shane is doing just fine without him. When he and his mom left San Francisco for Los Angeles three years ago, Shane never looked back. With his days filled with baseball, his friendship with Josh, and designing his very own graphic novel, he is finally getting to become the person he always knew he should be.

Despite his rosy outside life, Shane is hiding a secret that would change everything about his life if anyone ever found out about it. With his secret getting closer to exposure every day Shane will soon learn that truth comes with a price, and will have to decide if he is willing to pay it.

Once I started reading “The other boy” I couldn’t put it down, and finished it in one sitting. Hennessey’s young readers have the opportunity to learn about the many difficulties and challenges, as well as the hopes and fears, faced by transgender boys and girls. Through reading Shane’s story in this finely crafted novel, it is hoped they will learn acceptance and tolerance. Every middle school and public library should have a copy of “The other boy” in its collection.

Highly recommended for ages 11-14.

 

“Three truths and a lie” Brent Hartinger

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Published August 2, 2016. Simon Pulse.

ThreeTruthsAndALieRob, his boyfriend Liam, their friend Mia and her boyfriend Galen decide to spend a fun weekend at Mia’s parent’s cabin. Located in the middle of a partly denuded rainforest in Washington State, the four friends expect to have a great time at the cabin’s lake telling truth and lie games and hanging out.

Within just a few short hours of arriving, the satellite phone they need to communicate in case of an emergency winds up missing. It doesn’t take long before a series of other unfortunate events turns the fun they’d anticipated having into terror, as it seems like someone doesn’t want them to leave. As the horror escalates, their reality becomes someone’s lie leaving it up to the reader to distinguish between the two.

I thought “Three truths and a lie” was interesting though some of the events seemed rather far fetched. It reminded me of what always happens to those who don’t pay attention in creepy 1960’s “B” slasher movies, and I will admit that the ending left me very surprised.

It’s because of Hartinger’s ability to deceive that I recommend his book for ages 16 and older.

“Last seen leaving” Caleb Roehrig

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Ebook. Feiwel and Friends. To be published October 4, 2016.

LastSeenLeavingFlynn is devastated to find out his girlfriend, January, had been reported missing. Prying questions from the police triggered a secret he had been hiding from everyone, and his vague answers only served to convince them of his guilt. Determined to prove his innocence he starts to dig deeper into January’s disappearance but, as he reflects on their relationship, floodgates open to his own secret that will forever change his life.

Through flashbacks and the present time, readers are drawn into Flynn and January’s lives as the author did a good job implicating various characters in the crime. I thought I knew who was guilty, but was fooled many different times.

Despite good clues in the whodunit portion, I found inconsistencies that were problematic. Would a 19-year-old be able to date a 15-year-old without anyone blinking an eye? Would the two of them be able to wander in and around a rich, private school without any kind of security system? It was these and other inconsistencies that made the story much less believable, and caused me to drop its rating down to 3 stars.

Despite my questions I will recommend “Last seen leaving” for ages 14 and older because Roehrig did a good job stringing along the reader in making several characters appear to be the “bad guy.”

I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.